A new Dave Chappelle special arrived on Netflix the other day without advance publicity. You don’t even need Netflix to watch it, actually, as it’s free on YouTube, too.
Little wonder there was no advance notice. Filmed days earlier in front of a small audience wearing masks and sitting at a safe distance, it’s called 8:46. “This man kneeled on a man’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds,” Chappelle says early in the 27-minute special. “Can you imagine that? The kid thought he was going to die, he knew he was going to die. He called for his dead mother.”
Chappelle’s show isn’t very funny. It only veers toward hilarity when he makes outrageous and filthy fun of certain white pundits talking about the death of George Floyd. It’s angry and scathing, this short special, with Chappelle even wondering why he’s doing it. He acknowledges that maybe celebrities should shut up right now. “This is the streets talking for themselves,” he says, referring to the protesters and unrest. “They don’t need me right now.”
And yet he felt he had to do something. Comedians just keep going, no matter the circumstance or setting. Some want us to learn, as well as laugh. Here are seven other stand-up specials on streaming services that vary from angry to sweet to raunchy.
Michael Che Matters (Netflix) indicates that Che, familiar from Saturday Night Live, is no Chappelle. He’s a sideways humour guy, not blunt or shouty. What Che’s special, made in 2016, is about is his call for “honesty.” He’s full of rueful humour about what success has bought him and how he views the world differently now. A joke about Donald Trump being an intriguing friend to have around brings some boos, but Che plows on, making fun of himself rather than the world around him.
Fred Armisen: Standup For Drummers (Netflix) is more surreal than outright uproarious, but it’s a very gentle, distracting hour. Armisen is a drummer from way back and the hour is about music, drumming and the entire audience in the theatre is made up of drummers. They are a warm and appreciative audience for Armisen’s light, breezy and sometimes preposterous riffs on jazz (which he doesn’t care for), photography (which he feels is overrated – “great photography is pictures of poor people proud of something”) and drumming.
Trevor Noah: Son of Patricia (Netflix) is not the Noah of The Daily Show. It’s Noah the expert storyteller, master of accents and gifted at portraying the innocent abroad. Especially himself, the innocent from South Africa who finds the mercurial subtleties of everything in the U.S. – race, class, politics and general weirdness – a source of amusement rather than scorn. Funny, but filled with unsettling stories.
Katherine Ryan: Glitter Room (Netflix) features Ryan, who is Canadian and a big deal in Britain, talking about being a single mom. Her status as a single parent means she doesn’t have much time for dating and she doesn’t have much use for men, she says. “Men are like dolphins, best enjoyed on holiday,” is one of the punchlines. She touches on politics, money and day-to-day life while making a living. At its core, though, is her relationship with her young daughter.
Michelle Wolf: Joke Show (Netflix) is called Joke Show because Wolf decided to leave the politics of the Trump period behind. She can hardly be blamed. Her scathing White House Correspondents’ Dinner speech made her a target. She says she was hired for that gig because she was funny and vulgar. Here, she sticks to coarse, scatological material. And she’s very, very good at it. “Women are gross,” is a theme, and she’s determined to be as “icky” (her word) and raunchy as possible.
Jim Gaffigan: Quality Time (Amazon Prime Video) opens with Gaffigan saying, “This is what I look like. It’s mostly my fault.” And you know where you stand with this guy: white, middle-aged dad doing unpretentious observational comedy. But Gaffigan is actually an absurdist in disguise as a regular guy. The comedian doesn’t sit in a comedy-content silo of phony male bafflement at the world. The audience is subtly invited to judge him, and the laughs come from an earned affability that isn’t phony at all.
Pete Davidson: Alive From New York (Netflix) is unique, and not always in the matter of humour. It’s unsettling, actually. In the barely one-hour show, Davidson is working out a lot of things that have happened to him, especially the events that led him into such a depressive state that people worried about him. Some of it is funny, some more pointedly furious than funny, and some of it makes you want to tell Davidson that everything is going to be okay.
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